Critics’ Picks

Courtney Egan, Early Spring (detail), 2009, video projections and speakers. Installation view.

New Orleans

“Score & Script: Music in Video”

Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans
900 Camp Street
February 7–April 5

In this exhibition, curator Claire Tancons gathers artists, musicians, DJs, and VJs for a symphonic panorama of current issues within each discipline. The predominance of sound-based collaborations in the show actually offers a balanced and cohesive dialogue between the various artists and their respective media. One beautiful fusion is Courtney Egan’s video installation Early Spring, 2009. Cords and wires descend from the ceiling, several ending in a broken yet functioning speaker on the floor. Clunky AC adapters provide a dramatic break in this otherwise delicate transversal of lines, drawing the visual weight of the installation downward, toward the speakers and floor projections, where vivid images of flowers pulse, switch, and vibrate atop the assembly of gray and white speaker parts, which emit rhythmic, guttural bass tones––all of the elements converging into an elegant cacophonic tension.

Several poignant, documentary-like works include Melvin Moti’s Top Legs (Miss Daisy), 2005, and Edgar Arceneaux’s An Arrangement Without Tormentors, 2004. Moti’s video features the elderly Miss Daisy, one of Jamaica’s legendary ska dancers, dancing away in her front-yard garden, wearing everyday clothes. Moti mixes in sounds of Miss Daisy singing along to the inaudible music and speaking about her youth. Conversely, Arcenaux’s work primarily moves the main characters and viewer through a narrative by way of music. A split-screen projection depicts the artist Charles Gaines and a professional musician, in different cities, performing an original piece on the piano simultaneously. As the voices from the players merge and diverge, the sounds of the pianos echo the same refrain of arresting collaborations through marked individuality.

Another remarkable work that returns to the exhibition’s theme is Christophe Chassol’s Nola Chérie, 2009, a music and video piece created specifically for New Orleans. Chassol weaves imagery and sound from key local sources––the Rebirth and Troupe brass bands, Mississippi River boats, the Lower Ninth Ward, and the spoken-word artist Kalamu ya Salaam. Like many of the artists featured in this exhibition, Chassol resists cliché by blending these personal and voyeuristic elements in an elaborate and inventive consonance––all the elements brimming with the respectful affection that the title of his work offers.